This was written between December 7th 2018 and January 2nd 2019. I published it as December 31st so it would remain in my 2018 blog.
Pictured is my dry erase calendar that’s been written on since July 23rd 2018. I haven’t had the heart to erase it since her visit and it’s been a busy few months.
Before School Resumed
It was a mad dash over the summer between Stephanie’s visit, my volunteer position with SpoCon and the realization that I had limited time before I’d have no time at all. I made the decision to play back through Dragon Age: Inquisition. Mason and I went on an actual vacation to Seattle (by actual vacation I mean we visited for something other than a convention). The majority of my summer was spent working on SpoCon (I regret only that I burned myself out).
Fall 2018 Classes
I started my first quarter at Eastern Washington University in October. According to my Facebook feed: I’ve only played video games the entire time (because that’s all I share). The reality is that I was busy, stressed out, pushed to my limits—surprised, delighted, rushed and out of my mind for 10 weeks. Since I don’t have anyone to discuss my actual assignments with, my social media time was spent sharing funny cat photos and a bajillion photos from video games when I was trying to relax from said assignments.
My schedule looked something like this:
Monday: On the public bus by 7 or 8 a.m.; Intro to Fiction, lunch, Classical Ethics and Rhetoric, bus to bus plaza, bus home, play Starfinder with friends from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Tuesday: Same bus story, different day: Intro to Poetry, bus home.
Wednesday: Same bus story, different day: Intro to Fiction, lunch, Classical Ethics and Rhetoric.
Thursday: Same bus story, different day: Intro to Poetry, play video games from 6:30 p.m. to infinity and beyond because it’s Thursday therefore we game.
Friday, Saturday, Sunday “off” from school. It meant I wasn’t on campus but I was doing homework at least some of the time. I’m not a very focused student. Imagine that (my small business name is Distracted Dragon; I am somewhat self-aware). But I am a dedicated student and I will spend the time when I am able to get my work done. This quarter: that time appeared to be somewhere between the day it was due and 11:59 p.m. I’ve never been so close to turning in a paper late in my life! That sounds like a very privileged statement. I’ve been fortunate enough to not have life side-swipe me yet during school, and I have all the respect in the world for students who juggle life and turn in papers late because they did the work even if it was delayed.
There are plenty of college dropouts, graduates and dabblers who will say, “I spent 4+ hours a day on homework! I took 18 credits every semester/quarter/chance I had! I made it through college without any debt! I worked/part time/full time while attending classes!” I’m happy for you, but I am also not that person. I have a very part time job while in school, I make buttons on the side for extra money (that we usually spend on coffee or video games), I can manage about 14-15 credits a quarter if I’m not doing anything else. Clearly, I' just feel jealous or guilty about those college students who can succeed and do other things.
After the quarter ended: I was looking around our apartment and realized I hadn’t taken out the garbage, or done the dishes, or gathered up the dirty laundry, and Boo’s litter box was smelling ripe. I couldn’t have managed this without the complete support of Mason and my family and friends who remind me when I want to quit (which is often) that I’ve worked hard to get here. I don’t take a traditional path anywhere; hindsight would suggest I take the path that is over a cliff after falling off my horse. The point is: I get there, eventually, and it takes a patient posse of outlaws, and a steady horse and trigger finger. I’ve been playing a lot of Red Dead Redemption 2. Video games help me disconnect from the stress around homework and my class schedule, while also maintaining that “Why did I wait until the last freaking minute to do this paper” expectation.
To reinforce the misconception that I only play video games: I received an ornament for Christmas: “Star Gamer.” I mean, they’re not wrong, but I’d just as easily have enjoyed a “Star Student” ornament because that’s a big part of my life too. I just don’t yell about my classes on Facebook because no one wants to hear that. I’ve played video games for a long time but I think what non-gamers miss is that it’s really just another way to receive a story. They might not appreciate or understand the medium, but that’s all it is: another place where a story is being presented and I enjoy being an engaged and enthusiastic participant. A student of gaming, if you will.
I adjusted, or accepted, or generally just gave up complaining about public transportation. I discovered that I can’t do much on the bus. If I read a book or papers, I got car sick. I am able to listen to audio books so it’s not a total loss; and every so often the wifi works and I can connect my laptop to it and type a few lines. Again, how entitled am I that I complain about free wifi on a bus for my laptop? There’s plenty of people who pay for the bus (my bus pass is included in my tuition), who don’t have a laptop or a smartphone, and I’m bitching about not being able to do stuff on the bus. I should be more considerate. Adjusting to riding the bus was difficult and I complained often and loudly. Next quarter I’m hoping to only be on campus 2 days a week (update: official class schedule for Winter 2019 will only have me on campus 2 days a week!). I’m still an entitled jackass, and I’ll be more considerate about how I spend my time on the bus and in general.
Intro to Poetry
But wait, didn’t I already take Intro to Fiction and Intro to Poetry at North Idaho College? I seem to remember a lot of anger about poetry—yes, yes I did. They’re also required courses for entry in to the Creative Writing major at EWU. I wrote 10 small essays for poetry (2-4 pages each) about various poets and books of poems. We watched a lovely film about Pablo Neruda called Il Postino that I would recommend to anyone. I’ve included the trailer for you to watch.
I spent much of the time in my poetry class frustrated; I don’t have any love for symbols or symbolism, and poetry is not a path I’d choose except for when I need to write something small and compact. I enjoy writing poetry and reading the more narrative/confessional kinds, but explicating and analyzing are not my cup of tea. I enjoy poetry for the feeling but also for the sense of understanding, which are often not in the same poem. We did not write poems in that class, but we read quite a few contemporary and local poets.
I’d like to share a favorite poem:
The Way it Is
This was one of my favorite places on EWU Campus: the quiet, often empty, Honors Lounge upstairs in Hargreaves Hall. It has everything I need to be a successful student: a microwave, silence, power outlets, warmth and (usually) no people.
A visit from Christopher Howell
On our last day of poetry class we had a special visitor: EWU faculty member and poet Christopher Howell. We read his book Love’s Last Number and he joined us in class to read and discuss his work. He was honest and outspoken—in a soft, professional manner. We were meant to have some questions prepared for him but when our teacher asked us to open with questions: the room was silent. Here was a man who has written and published eleven collections of poems, has taught at EWU for more than twenty years, received numerous awards and was kind enough to visit our class—and met with silence. I panicked. I didn’t have questions written down (see previous statement about not being the best student) so I stammered something out, all the attention was turned towards me, and I lost it. “Thank you starting the conversation,” my teacher smiled at me, and I bought the time for someone else to ask a question. Really it was a lot more difficult to ask a question of the poem and book while the poet was in the room with us.
He admitted that he had slept in and left his hearing aid at home; when I spoke the second time, I spoke too softly, and he stood up from his chair and walked across the length of the classroom to hear and answer my question. What I remember most about his visit was the girl sitting next to me who kept sniffling (please for the love of all that is good in this world, do not keep sniffling when someone is trying to read aloud; excuse yourself and go blow your goddamn nose), but more importantly, Howell’s kindness, his stories and his encouragement. I recorded his class visit (entirely without permission) and would like to leave the most important 3 minutes and 53 seconds here for you to listen to (alternatively, I have attempted to transcribe the audio below):
“I went to college on an athletics scholarship. And so, when I started out I was like most of the other college athletes, a P.E. major, and I found this fabulously boring, and I switched to English because I found it wonderful. And the first class I took was, I guess it was the second part of the English Literature survey and so we dove through these writers and poets and I had a terrible time figuring out why we were reading this. I mean, I looked at this stuff and I said ‘I could do that.’ And so I started writing poems hoping that it would teach me what it was about these things that made them worth reading and then it hooked me. I mean, I couldn’t stop, finally, after I started doing it and I did it out of almost contempt, and I started feeling like I was going to master this in a couple of days. So it became a tool, to investigate, for learning about poetry, I guess. That’s how it started and that’s what it continued to be.
Although I remember being asked to write an essay when I was a junior in high school and I forget what, something about personal experience, and I didn’t have any idea what that meant exactly. But I remember sitting down in my room and starting to write and getting in to, I guess in to my own subconscious in some way, writing things that I had no idea I really had ever known, before. And the thrill of that, and that’s what I began to encounter when I started writing poems. Just that thrilling sense of connection, I guess, with the whole self. Right? Not just your frontal lobe, but you know, your whole self, which is not limited to your reason, or your memory. It’s the very best reason to write. To make that connection, to feel whole. And everyone in this room knows what that feeling is like. It comes on you sometimes inexplicitly, you suddenly feel that you are ‘OK.’ That’s the self, there, that’s what it feels like to be whole. And art is a really good avenue for that, any kind of art. I wish more people wrote poems.” Christopher Howell, November 29th, 2018 (00:41:40 - 00:45:33)
Somewhere during the quarter I stumbled in to the “Futuristic” classroom:
These computers and monitors are all completely contained within the desk itself. What a great space saver!
Ok, so maybe not “Futuristic” maybe just “we wanted to save space” but to at least me, I was fascinated. I want one.
Intro to Fiction
This feeling of writing bringing wholeness had just occurred the night before as I was faced with the deadline for my final fiction piece for Intro to Fiction. I had a rough draft, and a concept; both went promptly sideways once I started writing. I was a mess. I was yelling, crying, accusing and generally flailing at Mason about the stresses of the final few days of school, my grades... I had a story due by midnight and god damn it, how was I ever going to finish it? I asked Mason to stay with me, just to read his book in the same room, so I wasn’t alone. And he did, because he’s the most wonderful human being I’ve ever known. He stayed with me, and I started to write—and once I did, all the anger, frustration and chaos in my head faded away.
Eventually I kicked Mason out (politely!), I knew that from that point on I was going to be safe to finish my story before midnight. I was on a roll, the story was at my fingertips, it had a shape, mostly. I took a few breaks, paced around the room, and things fell together. I submitted my story at 11:58 p.m. and a weight lifted off my shoulders. But for a few hours: my life was completely calm. I was writing, and I was whole, and the story was coming together.
It would be a week before I’d have another meltdown over/during writing. After submitting my fiction piece, it was then my turn to read the piece submitted by my partner, and analyze it. It’s one task to analyze an established, published novel; it’s another project entirely to analyze a piece of work that is a first or second draft. My author was in her early 20s and the story was not my favorite, but if my Intro to Fiction class taught me anything, it’s that it doesn’t matter whether I like the material or not, it isn’t about me, it’s about what the text is doing. And it was doing something. And I had to find out what and how.
And I eventually managed it, but it took Mason running to get me a bucket of deep fried mushrooms. He hates mushrooms and had to sit in the car next to this bucket… thanks dude. I love you too.
An Example of Tone
In one of the twenty times (I wish I was exaggerating) that I rearranged my schedule, I considered taking a Film class. I’ve since talked myself out of it (I already over-analyze writing and reading, I don’t want my movie-watching to be overly-critical too). In part I was inspired by all of the elements in these few minutes of film.
I’m not a film critic; here are just a few things you could notice after/during watching this clip: how the blue/darkness makes you feel (the mystery and tension that not being able to see can create), how it teaches consent (Max uses up the last of the bullets and Furiosa comes over and, without verbal cues, he hands over the rifle to give Furiosa control. Then she uses Max like an object when she balances the gun on his shoulder, but it is mutual). Tension is built by counting each bullet. It is significant for a woman to be the savior of the other women (because men have been the source of their pain until this point). Spoken word is a way to wield power; Max doesn’t speak much because he doesn’t try to assert power. They literally destroy the last tree in the world to save themselves. Now watch and see if you notice.
OK Cool, but did you write anything?
You’d think so, in an Intro to Fiction class. And we did write a few things, and I wrote at least two short stories/snippets (and 4 essays). I thought about including them here but they would have made the blog post even longer, and the stories might not be for everyone. One is a story of a college student lamenting to her cat about literary analysis, and the other is a sort of semi-Greek-Mythology highly influenced by The Little Prince. I’d like to share them later in another, future blog post. The answer is yes, there was some actual writing, but I was so busy with classes I can’t say the writing assignments were always filled with joy.
Classical Ethics and Rhetoric
Ask anyone who knew me before this quarter started: I was convinced this was going to be the class that I failed. “Classical ethics and rhetoric?! I have read something called On Christian Doctrine, I’m going to scream (inwardly) about how the Christian agenda is sneaking in to my classroom and—” And then class started. And then the professor was a super chill, educated, charming man (fully self-aware of his station, privilege, and opportunities to teach). We read Aristotle, a little of Epictetus and Epicurus, Saint Augustine and Marcus Aurelius. Admittedly, these names meant little or nothing to me before class. I could have told you Aristotle was a philosopher but would have confused The Enchiridion for something from Adventure Time.
We learned a handful of Greek words (only the English spelling) and these are some of my favorites:
Scholé - Self-sponsored cultural life of the mind. The word was translated roughly as “Otisus” in Latin which meant “leisure” and then it became “Lazy” in English to mean “activity with no practical purpose.” Scholé for me is video games with family, or reading a book, or watching a movie and now: learning from class.
Telos - “That for the sake of which.”
Apistos - Without faith.
Gnochi Seaton - “Know thyself” written over the ancient Temple of Delphi.
Tyche - Drift, opportunity, chance.
Hexis - Internalized automatic response.
Ataraxia - Without worry or pain.
Praxis - What you actually do. “Praxis makes perfect.”
Kalos - Simultaneously beautiful and useful. This word survived in at least one English word: calligraphy. It is irritatingly often translated as ‘fine.’
Pleonexia - (Play-oh-nex-ia) The disease of never having enough.
Kalokagatha - Beautiful, useful and good. The telos of the Greek educational system.
Vex - Being angry.
My favorite writing for the Quarter had to be from this class. We wrote 200 word polemics, a sort of written attack of a subject. It could have been the snark or the word count that appealed to me most, but here is one I wrote as an “angry polemic.” We had to write angrily about something we believed in. I titled this one ‘Future Focused’:
Why does Eastern Washington University even have a library? It’s gigantic, takes up entirely too much space and is filled with cumbersome books. There are even multiple floors, each full of books and computers that anyone can access, and even employs—of all people—librarians and archivists to answer questions. Actual, educated people, paid (presumably) a living wage, to help answer questions and assist with research. Why not just go to a computer and Google it? Students should go home where it’s always calm and quiet and use their own computers, printers and ink! The internet is there for a reason. Even worse: the library is free for students! What an outrage! The library is a waste of space that costs Eastern Washington University money. We can’t even charge admission to access the library to make a profit. We should bulldoze it and build a parking lot so we can charge more for parking passes. Imagine what we could do with the money if we could charge 200 more students for parking passes every quarter? We could build even more parking lots and charge even more money. We need more places for people to park: not to think.
Of course I love the library (EWU has a fantastic library!) but the anger it can well up in a person if they think I believe what I’m writing—oh, it is a force within itself. I’d never heard of polemics before but they are awfully fun to write.
Another instance where guilt or anger seemed to delay my progress—my Ethics and Rhetoric teacher had a story about what happens when he encounters students who want to be novelists. He’d ask them: “What have you written today?” And followed up with a “Writers don’t want to write, they want a best selling novel. They want to have written already.” He continued to talk about the work ethics of a best-selling Spokane-local novelist who wakes up every day at 6 a.m. and writes until noon.
I was sitting in the classroom thinking: first off, that’s a bit unfair, followed quickly by: I can barely wake up before 8 a.m., and over the Winter Break my sleep schedule was something like 3 a.m. to 11 a.m., and lots of video games, and zero writing except for this blog. This lesson did two things for me: it vexed me and it made me work to forgive myself. I have this constant war within: I should be writing, but then, I don’t have the time I need to write. I’m glad they can get up and write for 6 hours, that’s some serious dedication. I need 6 hours just to convince myself I have time to write some days. No, I haven’t written anything significant since October, but I disagree that just because one version of dedication works for an author that those same guidelines work for all authors. That isn’t what my teacher was saying, either, only that he’s been in the business for a long time and he’s seen a ton of snotty students who want to be novelists and don’t want to do the work. I’m a snotty student, I want to do the work, I just want to do it when I’m done with school. There’s a fundamental difference. Now, if I get out of school and I still don’t do the work—then we can re-address this.
But at that moment in class, it made me feel awful and guilty and reminded me that I wasn’t writing. And it took me a while to remember that we all work differently, and succeed at different paces, and someday if I wake up at 11 a.m. and write until 5 p.m., then that’s dedication, too. And I’d also caution against a best selling novel equaling success but it’s also the easiest and broadest answer to present. I know he doesn’t believe that and was only trying to make sure the class knew that writing takes dedication but most only seek fame (my teacher is an author himself, and in the pursuit of happiness, we cannot be defined by such things as fame and success. For more amazing quotes about happiness and the impermanence of fame, see Marcus Aurelius). I can’t deny that seeking fame isn’t hardwired into most American brains but I can begin to deny that it isn’t what I define as success.
“And those who have just learned something do not yet know it, though they string the words together; for it must grow into them, and this takes time” (Aristotle from Nicomachean Ethics, Second Edition, edited by Terence Irwin, 103).
“If anyone tells you that a certain person speaks ill of you, do not make excuses about what is said of you, but answer: “He was ignorant of my other faults, else he would not have mentioned these alone” (Epictetus in The Enchiridion, translated by Thomas W. Higginson, 32).
“Death, the most dreaded of evils, is therefore of no concern to us; for while we exist death is not present, and when death is present we no longer exist” (Epicurus in Letters, Principal Doctrines, and Vatican Sayings, translated by Russel M. Geer, 54).
“Do not live as if you still have ten thousand years left. Your fate hangs over you. While you are still living, while you still exist on this Earth, strive to become a genuinely good man” (Marcus Aurelius in The Essential Marcus Aurelius, translated by Jacob Needleman and John P. Piazza, 30).
Quotations overheard in Academia
or The Wild (A.K.A. The Public Bus)
“Your job as an author is to give the reader enough information to go in the direction you want.”
“1, 2, 3, 4, we don’t want your fucking war.”
“We love the traumas that hurt because they define us.”
“A successful novelist is ‘one who eats’.”
“Our generation is the first to have lower-life expectancy because of anxiety.”
“Rhetoric is just a tool, cowboy.” - Aristotle*
“We can have some very noble failures.”
“Team work makes the dream work.”
“Allow yourself to be known by others—knowing and being known by someone else is powerful. Don’t be a keeper of secrets; trust someone.”
“The caffeine [or vino] model of the composition process.”
“Everyone who teaches has an ego. Except outside of the class: we all hate ourselves.”
*Definitely not Aristotle.
What does all this mean for the me as an author?
Right. Well, it means that I haven’t forgotten about Malisyn and Nox—and I have a tab in my fancy new notebook specifically for story notes. I didn’t write about them this past quarter, but I thought about them (cue subconscious hatred/rant about people who only think about writing but don’t actually write, and then slap it silly). I thought about them when I was dreaming of Hellenic Greece, or when I read the line: “…if the soul itself is merely an exhalation from the blood” from Marcus Aurelius in The Essential Marcus Aurelius, translated by Jacob Needleman and John P. Piazza, 45, referencing “one ancient theory of the nature of the soul” that will eventually lead me to “Heraclitus fr. 12 and Aristotle De Anima 405a25”. I have notes about willow bark, past lives, avoiding similarities to Doctor Who/Sailor Moon/Dragon Age, the Greek slave system, the Salem Witch Trials, Tacky’s Rebellion in 1760, cordite, tear gas—I promise you, that I may not be taking notes about what’s happening in class all the time, but I’m certainly taking notes for stories.
I’ve got two short stories, a handful of essays and more hours of revision under my belt during this last quarter also. That’s practice and composition that I received through class and I’ve already noticed a positive change in my own composition process. None of that gets me much closer to writing but it does set me up to write better and revise better when the time presents itself. I’m learning and growing as an author, and while my characters and manuscripts wait on the sidelines, I plan on returning to them with all sorts of new ideas. I just gotta make it through this one story first: college. Thanks for your patience and support (and if you’re not patient and not supportive, well, thank you too, at least you’re here).